Experts Call for Expedited Smart Grid Standards

By Published On: April 24, 2009

Given the short timeframe for utilities, agencies, and other entities to tap $4.5 billion in federal funds to support advanced grid projects, development of “smart grid” standards must be accelerated, panelists said at an April 21 California Public Utilities Commission symposium on upgrading the grid. At the same time, standards and protocols should accommodate different high tech technologies and applications, as well as regional needs, Erich Gunther, EnerNex Corp. chair, told regulators, policy makers, and a diverse group of stakeholders. “We don’t want to end up with six or seven systems that can’t talk to each other,” noted Michael Gravely, California Energy Commission energy systems manager. He added that the focus of smart grid ground rules should be on the future and on non-proprietary technology. An intelligent grid refers to merging information technology and power transmission systems, including so-called “smart meters,” programmable thermostats, and appliances. Additionally, computerized control of energy consumption at businesses and residences can curb peak demand and emissions. Some policymakers support centralized appliance control because it can lessen demand during hot days and avoid firing up additional--and often expensive and polluting power plants. That peak occurs a few days a year. The Department of Energy is planning workshops next month aimed at reaching agreement on national standards. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is charged with coordinating the interoperability standard process under the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act to ensure that smart grid components are compatible. Over the next few months, DOE plans to award funds to a range of projects by utilities--public and private--system vendors, states, local governments, and universities across the country. The bulk of DOE funds, $3.4 billion, are set aside for grants. That includes $615 million for smart grid regional demonstration projects, utility-scale, storage, and monitoring pilot projects. Qualifying storage projects include advanced battery systems, fly wheels, and wind and solar integration and grid congestion relief technologies. Another $600 million in grants to cover up to 50 percent of grid technology deployment project costs is to be allocated, with awards between $500,000 and $20 million Because of expected collaboration on large-scale projects among utilities, however, federal funds may only cover a fraction of project costs, acknowledged Andy Campbell, CPUC member Rachelle Chong’s consultant. Southern California public power agencies, for example, are working on an integrated advanced grid project that could cost $1 billion. The first round of DOE funding is expected in late June, followed by another round in December. “Funding may not be available after the first date,” Chong pointed out. DOE may not fund advanced infrastructure metering programs. Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, Southern California Gas, and San Diego Gas & Electric are in various stages of installing advanced meters in their territories. The CPUC approved “smart grid” programs for PG&E, Edison, and SDG&E estimated to cost a combined $5 billion. A number of public power agencies have launched, or plan to initiate, advanced metering programs, including the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and Burbank Water and Power. The down side of allowing communication between devices and the power distribution system is the overwhelming amount of data it could produce, be it system updates or pricing information, according to some observers. “There will be so much data and the challenge will be how to weed through it,” noted Gravely. Another issue is system vulnerability. “Security will be breached at some time.” said Frances Cleveland, Xanthus Consulting president. Thus, security to protect against intentional attacks or inadvertent events should not be slapped on at the end. She urged that protections be layered and that security systems provide adequate detection and notification of any attack. The biggest risk, however, comes not from foreign terrorists, but disgruntled employees who know the system. Cleveland noted that security can be costly and may be hard to justify because there is no payback, unlike more efficient grid technologies.

Share this story

Not a member yet?

Subscribe Now